Elizabeth Powell is a welcome addition to the ranks of Regency authors.
Her second novel takes an old favorite plot - the rakeís redemption -
and provides an enjoyable romance between two unlikely lovers - our
above mentioned rake and a scholarly widow.
Kit Mallory was the daughter of a peer, but her fatherís reputation
meant that she was not readily accepted by society during her single
season eight years ago. Her father found her a husband, a wealthy
Indian merchant who took his prize off to Calcutta where he mostly
ignored his young wife in favor of his sporting pursuits. These
pursuits ultimately led to his death at the hands of a tiger. Kit
returned to England. On the trip, she befriended the Dowager Duchess of Wexcombe.
The duchessís family is not happy with the friendship. They are
convinced that Kit has designs on her graceís fortune. So the current
duke, her grandson, enlists his cousin, the rakish Marquess of Marquess
of Bainbridge, to seduce the widow, thus demonstrating her true character.
Nicholas Darcy is a prototypical rake, one who has arrived at the point
where his dissipations have become something of a bore. He undertakes
his cousinís mission, both because of the challenge it entails but also
because he is fond of his aunt and doesnít want her to fall under the
spell of an adventuress
The campaign to seduce Kit takes place when she accompanies her friend
to the family seat. The duchess wants Kitís presence because she knows
her grandson is going to try to force her to retire to the dower house
and give up her active life. As the stubborn duchess and the equally
stubborn duke arrive at an impasse, Nicholas makes a startling
suggestion: if Kit will consent to be his mistress, he will use his good
offices to work out a compromise which will make both parties happy.
Kit, unexpectedly attracted to the handsome marquess and worried about
her friendís future happiness, accepts the reckless bargain.
The key to a successful ďreformed rakeĒ plot is a heroine who is
compelling enough to induce the hero to give up his wicked ways. Powell
succeeds in creating such a heroine. Kit spent her time in India
learning the languages and immersing herself in the culture. She has
become a scholar of considerable ability. She is also exotically
lovely, although she does not appreciate her own attractiveness. While
Nicholas sets out to seduce her in the most calculating fashion, he soon
finds himself unexpectedly attracted to this unusual woman.
There are of course the requisite barriers to the happy ending: Kitís
determination not to marry again, the difference in their social status,
the disapproval of the family (except, of course, the dowager duchess),
and Kitís discovery of Nicholasís original perfidy.
Powell creates not only an interesting hero and heroine, but also a fine
cast of secondary characters. Particularly appealing is the dowager
duchess who, after forty years of an unhappy marriage, is finally
spreading her wings and enjoying life.
Powell has the conventions of the genre down pat and has a good feel for
the historical setting and the social conventions of the era. All in
all, A Reckless Bargain is a most enjoyable Regency romance.